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Restoring the Only Surviving Sedanlette

Priced at $1888, the sales copy states that "Through its exclusive features, the Sedanlét is literally three cars in one — in cold weather it is entirely closed; in moderate weather the windows my be lowered or raised; in summer the ALL-YEAR Top is easily removed, giving a wide-open car with the new Kissel Semi-Victoria Style Summer Top." (These centerfold pages are from a 1918 Kissel sales brochure. Note the string binding).
Priced at $1888, the sales copy states that "Through its exclusive features, the Sedanlét is literally three cars in one — in cold weather it is entirely closed; in moderate weather the windows my be lowered or raised; in summer the ALL-YEAR Top is easily removed, giving a wide-open car with the new Kissel Semi-Victoria Style Summer Top." (These centerfold pages are from a 1918 Kissel sales brochure. Note the string binding).

By Ronald Hausmann, P.E., Classic Car Specialist

Revised Dec. 30, 2015
The original version of this article, while the restoration effort was still in progress, appeared in The Kisselgraph, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Dec. 2015). It is anticipated that this page will be updated as the restoration effort is concluded.

As readers of The Kisselgraph know, Kissel cars are rare. But within the slender ranks of Kissels, some Kissel-made cars like the "Gold Bug" are truly unique in their legacy and place in Kissel lore. Two years ago we were able to locate and acquire one such rare Kissel. We purchased the parts which are now becoming the only complete Kissel "All-Year" Sedanlette known to survive.

Kissel Motor Car Company advertisment for their 1918 cars. Kissel Motor Car Company advertisment for their 1918 cars. Kissel Motor Car Company advertisment for their 1918 cars. Kissel Motor Car Company advertisment for their 1918 cars.
Kissel Motor Car Company advertisment for their 1918 cars.

The Kissel Motor Car company was a pioneer in manufacturing body styles which enabled owners to easily switch cars from summer (convertible) to winter (hardtop sedan) use. In model year 1915, Kissel introduced their "ALL-Year Car" body designs, in which future owners of certain Kissel models had the option to buy a removable wood hardtop for their roadster or touring bodies. This top arrangement allowed the soft top to be replaced in an hour to make their convertible suitable for harsh winter use. Thus the term "ALL-Year Car" was born.

There are no known Kissel surviving hardtops of this era, as long-term storage for these bulky tops proved to be a problem. These original All-Year Tops had fixed, not operable, side windows mounted within the hardtop assembly.

Starting in 1916, Kissel began calling the bodies used on their All-Year Cars "Gibraltar", alluding to their increased strength of construction.

In September 1917 (early model year 1918), Kissel took their removable top idea one final step further. Kissel created bodies which had operable windows within their already advanced All-Year Car design. This concept required that the lower car body, as well as the removable hardtop, essentially be doubled. The six 23-inch-wide side windows travel in carved oak grooves within both the removable hardtop and lower body.

On July 21, 1917, Kissel applied for two patents related to this design. US patent #1,249,553 for the door latch was granted on Dec. 11, 1917; patent #1,438,382 for the removable top with sliding glass windows was granted on Dec. 12, 1922.

Illustration from US patent #1,438,382 for the ALL-Year Top. Illustration from US patent #1,438,382 for the ALL-Year Top. Illustration from US patent #1,438,382 for the ALL-Year Top. Illustration from US patent #1,249,553 for the door lock.
Illustration from US patents #1,438,382, for the ALL-Year Top,
and #1,249,553, for the door lock. Follow the links for the full
text of the patents in PDF.

A few new models of Kissel All-Year Cars with Gibraltar bodies were marketed in starting in 1918, including a new cutting-edge four-passenger model variously sold as the "Sedané" , "Sedanlet", or "Sedanlette", of which our car is an example. This sporty body style had many traits that foreshadowed the future Gold Bug, which was introduced in 1919.

Except for our car, no Kissel Sedanlettte models of any year have survived. Moreover, there are no known surviving Kissel All-Year Car models with both hardtops and convertible tops that have survived, except for our car.

It was evident that major efforts would be required <br />when we acquired our Sedanlette (car #38-5241) in 2013 It was evident that major efforts would be required <br />when we acquired our Sedanlette (car #38-5241) in 2013
It was evident that major efforts would be required
when we acquired our Sedanlette (car #38-5241) in 2013

We acquired the 1918 Sedanette in 2013 along with other Kissel cars and items collected by long-time Klub member Clifford Morse. This Sedanlette had two-thirds of the original All-Year Top still extant. The metal body panels, while rough, were still there to use as patterns. The lower Gibraltar body wood was gone but some restoration and re carving had been started. The chassis and wheels as well as engine were mostly complete.

Restoration of this beautiful Kissel Serdanlette is currently underway and should be completed in 2017, before the car's 100-year birthday.

For me, the most time consuming aspect of this restoration, so far, has been the complete recreation of the oak and ash carved wood lower body. It's been a huge amount of hard work! Because the attachment of hardtop and convertible top points had to be precise in three dimensions, and because the windows needed to operate easily between top and lower body, the carving of the Gibraltar body has taken over a year. Painstaking and intricate work!

Some details of the restoration effort... Some details of the restoration effort... Some details of the restoration effort... Some details of the restoration effort...
Details of the All-Year Top hardware Details of the All-Year Top hardware Details of the All-Year Top hardware Details of the All-Year Top hardware
Details of the All-Year Top hardware
Details of the All-Year Top hardware

First, the original carved oak removable hardtop pieces were restored, rehabilitated, and reassembled in order to establish lower body connecting points. Then, with help from Kissel owner Joe Leaf, the Kissel patents were located, from which connection hardware and ideas were salvaged. The 1917 Kissel patent information and surviving metal body panel cutouts enabled us to recreate the exact lower body Gibraltar wood sections to accommodate both the tops, the metalwork, and the inter leavened sliding windows.

All this wood was carved oak. Thick oak sections were made by laminating one inch pieces. I actually developed carpel tunnel syndrome as a result of using so much vibratory tooling and chiseling in this carving process.

A year later, this tedious wood carving is essentially done. The metal panels are now being made, fixed, and fitted and I am now working on the powerful Kissel model 6-38 engine. We found that many of my Kissel model 6-45 chassis parts appear to interchange with model 6-38 stuff as well.

Details of the All-Year Top hardware Details of the All-Year Top hardware The shape of the vehicle starts to emerge as completed parts are assembled... The shape of the vehicle starts to emerge as completed parts are assembled...
The shape of the vehicle starts to emerge as completed parts are assembled... The shape of the vehicle starts to emerge as completed parts are assembled... The shape of the vehicle starts to emerge as completed parts are assembled... The shape of the vehicle starts to emerge as completed parts are assembled...
The shape of the vehicle starts to emerge as completed parts are assembled...

We expect have this 1918 Kissel Sedanlette, properly known as a "1918 Kissel Model 6-38 All-Year Gibraltar-bodied Sedanlette", on the road in 2017. We are not sure if we will normally exhibit it in its sporty, convertible guise, or with the hardtop on. Although it is certainly dashing as a convertible, it is a big impressive beast with its hardtop on and truly unique in appearance. And the carved oak top is really something to see.

It's a wonderful piece of Kissel history.

Ron Hausmann owns six complete Kissels (including two Speedsters) plus additional engines, bodies and parts. He lives in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Ronald maintains 'kisselsandclassiccars.com', a website that features his collector cars. You can contact him by email to .

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Last updated: Dec. 30, 2015